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1,000 fire evacuees in western Canada can return home

PINEHOUSE, Saskatchewan (AP) — About 1,000 wildfire evacuees from Saskatchewan are being allowed to go home, the premiere of the western Canadian province said Wednesday.

Brad Wall said one evacuation order has been lifted and other communities will be cleared throughout Wednesday. He anticipated others would soon follow.

“This was an unprecedented evacuation, so eventually it’ll be an unprecedented repatriation,” he said.

Wildfires and smoke have forced about 13,000 people out of their homes in 50 communities over the last two weeks. A higher than average number of fires in the province has destroyed about 90 homes, most of them seasonal cabins.

Fires also continue to burn in British Columbia and Alberta. They have led to air quality advisories across western Canada and parts of the western U.S., due to the thick smoke over the region.

The fire situation for many communities remained serious, Wall said.

“There’s room for cautious optimism, but we need to remember that anything can change very quickly and there’s fire very close to a great many communities.”

Officials said rain has fallen in some areas, but the fires remain a concern. About 1,700 firefighters, including 600 soldiers and reservists, are battling the blazes. Fire-fighting personnel have been brought in from across Canada and the United States.

A record-low snow pack, paltry rainfall, and soaring temperatures have pushed British Columbia’s most heavily populated regions to the highest alert level on the drought scale. The dry conditions have fueled a number of the province’s wildfires that have been burning for the past few weeks.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said conditions are likely to become even drier before the weekend. He said if the situation worsens, the province may temporarily suspend water usage and water licenses in affected watersheds, though so far no regulations have been introduced.

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